One of the more hurtful experiences in my ministry was when a United Methodist pastor, a predecessor at the churches I serve, did a funeral for a member of my church. The act itself was not very hurtful, but the pastor’s response to me calling out the inappropriateness of it was. I wrote a letter explaining why I thought it was wrong and how it violated the Book of Discipline.
A week later I received a phone call. The pastor told me that families should be allowed to ask whoever they want to preside over weddings and funerals. What the pastor did was not in anyway undermining my ministry. From the pastor’s perspective, the only issue was not calling me first.
We had very different perspectives on the situation. It was clear from our phone call that both of us had trouble appreciating the other person’s perspective. When it was clear that we were coming at it from very different perspectives and we were not going to find common ground, we just ended the call. I am not sure if the other pastor left the conversation hurt, but I know I did.
Perspective is one of hardest issues we deal with as Christians. We all can look at situations very differently. Look no further than the 2016 US Presidential election. I was eating with some fellow Christians and one raised a concern about the election. He said that one of the candidates was a pathological liar, and he would let us fill in the blank of who that candidate is. It became clear that I filled in the blank wrong in my mind as he kept talking. Different people see totally different things in the candidates. Where one person sees a candidate who could help the country, someone else sees a candidate that could potentially ruin the country.
Our differing perspectives make being a church difficult. It is very hard to have conversations about controversial issues when the parties involved have very different perspectives on the issue. People can be faithful disciples of Jesus, earnestly seeking God’s will, and come to different conclusions on issues.
I would argue that at the moment, the United Methodist church lacks enough perspective to make any definitive decisions about the future of the church. As people prepare for schism, argue over who started the schism, and are really nasty to each other on social media, it would be helpful for us to put things in proper perspective.
Ideally, we want God’s perspective. When we cannot agree on God’s perspective over a particular issue, then it might be helpful to look at what the Bible says to do when we cannot agree on issues related to our faith. Time and time again it says love. We are to be known by our love according to Jesus. Paul tells a fractious church in Corinth to act in love.
Nowhere does it say fight with each other in a death match. Unity, not schism, is held up as the ideal. If we cannot act in love towards each other than how can we love those God calls us to love? If we cannot ascribe the best motivations to our fellow United Methodists that we disagree with, and see their attempts at faithfulness, then what is the point of being a follower of Jesus?
We are called to love each other. Love is not an emotion, but how we treat each other. Instead of seeing our struggles as a crisis that needs to be dealt in hurtful ways, we could see it as an opportunity to put our faith into action. If we can learn to love each other in the midst of differing and important perspectives, then perhaps we can offer a fractious world a witness to something different.
The problems we have over differing perspectives on wedge issues are not the real problems. Our real problem is that our perspective is focused on the wrong things. We should be focused on how we can act in love with each other in the midst of disagreement as a witness to what Jesus told us to do. Instead our focus seems to be on something less than love.
Having differing perspectives is hurtful. No matter what we do going forward, people will be hurt. The issue though is how do we respond to the hurt and pain. What will our perspective be in the midst of it? Winning? Self-righteousness? Power? God’s radical call to love?